NEC Ball Screen: 2/3/22
We're over half-way through the NEC's league schedule, and am I alone in feeling that there's not much of a race? We already know that regular season crown is going to be either Wagner or Bryant (and they don't face-off again until 2/26), while the Mount and LIU are heads and shoulders above the rest of the league in terms of locking down a home quarterfinal game.
If you missed it, I had some thoughts on the events that occurred during the Bryant-LIU game on Sunday, and that could muddy up the waters a bit; Bryant will be without Peter Kiss for its next two games, while LIU is without Ty Flowers and Alex Rivera, as well as Derek Kellogg, tonight against Sacred Heart.
Today's Games (All games can be seen via NEC FrontRow):
Wagner at Central Connecticut, 7pm
Bryant at St. Francis (PA), 7pm
Merrimack at Mount St. Mary's, 7pm
Sacred Heart at Long Island, 7pm
Fairleigh Dickinson at St. Francis-Brooklyn, 7pm
WC at CCSU
What's been a recurring theme when I write about Central Connecticut; I worry about the rim protection against a team that gets most of its offense at, and near, the rim. As has been well-chronicled, the Blue Devils are young up front (freshman Jayden Brown has been getting the bulk of the minutes at the '5' while another first-year player, Arian Dehnavi, backs him up. Plus both guys who see time at the '4', Andre Snoddy and Trenton McLaughlin, are true freshmen), and have not done well in defending the interior. According to Shot Quality, CCSU is allowing 36% of their opponents shots in league play to come at the rim (a league high), and their opponents 1.23 SQ PPP is 8th. In terms of actual data, opponents are making 52.3% of their twos (7th in the NEC). We all know what Wagner does; they get to the rim both in half-court and in transition, with 63.1% of their points this season coming inside the arc, which is 2nd nationally. Patrick Sellers either has to come up with a different defensive scheme to force the Seahawks to become jump shooters, or it will be a long night at Detrick Gym.
BU at SFU
No Peter Kiss in this one...does Hall Elisias play? The Bryant big man appeared to injure his knee last Thursday and did not play in the LIU game on Sunday. Without Elisias, the front-line is depleted; Greg Calixte could be the starting '5' for many NEC teams, but the Bryant staff was forced to utilize 6'5" walk-on Josh Ozabor in a back-up role on Sunday. As for the Kiss absence; I can't help to think back to when Bryant played at Stony Brook on December 11th. Kiss was out due to covid protocols, and Charles Pride turned in a 27 points/5 rebound performance in his stead (Elisias didn't play in that one either). Chris Childs and Grant Coleman, who logged 33 minutes in that game, are no longer with the program, but Grasso will likely look to Erickson Bans and Tyler Brelsford to step up on the offensive end. Defensively is where the concern is; SFU will likely look to attack Calixte early and often with Josh Cohen and Mark Flagg, and to a lesser extent Jeriah Coleman. If Calixte, who is averaging 5.5 fouls per 40 minutes, can't stay on the floor, the Red Flash could pull the upset.
MC at MSMU
Two defense-first teams heading in completely different directions; Merrimack has lost 5 in a row (4 of which were at home), while the Mount are winners of 5 straight. Over that period, Mount St. Mary's has improved from #303 at Kenpom to #254, while Merrimack has gone from #272 to #320. When these two paired up in North Andover on 1/17, Mount St. Mary's pulled out a 57-50 win after a late, and the star of the show was Malik Jefferson who went for 16 and 9. Merrimack has had trouble containing good bigs and Jefferson has missed the last three games, so that could be a factor here. A concern if you're Joe Gallo and his staff: despite having the presence of one of the league's best rim protectors in Jordan Minor, Merrimack is allowing 1.24 SQPPP against NEC opponents, which is dead last in the league. Check out the difference between last season and this season:
2022: 38% of shots are coming at the rim (9th), 1.24 SQPPP (10th)
2021: 39% of shots coming at the rim (5th), 1.11 SQPPP (5th)
Have teams started to figure out how to beat the Merrimack match-up zone? Or is there more play here?
SHU at LIU
Remember; LIU is without Ty Flowers and Alex Rivera in this one. While Flowers is undeniably one of the best players in the NEC, Long Island can certainly make up for his loss by utilizing Isaac Kante and Eral Penn more than they typically do. However, combine that with the absence of Rivera, and suddenly any depth that the Sharks may have had is completely gone. This season Derek Kellogg has largely ridden 6 players, with a 7th (Quion Burns) seeing sparse minutes. Tonight, however, LIU will need guys like Burns, Noble Crawford (9 games, 10.3% of minutes), Andre Washington (14 games, 16.2% of minutes), and Jake Cook (13 games, 10% of minutes) to step up. Sacred Heart has been a mess defensively, especially inside (they're allowing opponents to make nearly 54% of their 2s), but is a solid offensive team, especially if both Aaron Clarke and Tyler Thomas can get going. Clark was dealing with an illness when the Pios lost to SFC a week ago (he played just 29 minutes), but hopefully he's good to go tonight. One thing to remember; while SHU won back on 12/29 in Fairfield, neither Rivera nor Davis played. However, Flowers did score 36 in a losing effort.
FDU at SFC
You might look at Fairleigh Dickinson's record (2-15 overall, 2-5 in the NEC) and think the Knights are a push-over, but you'd be wrong. In NEC play their Efficiency Margin of -5.3 is 5th and their average Game Score (per Torvik) of 25.0 is 6th. Which is to say; they've played like a middle-of-the-pack NEC team as opposed to a cellar-dweller. Greg Herenda has one of the very youngest teams in the entire nation (#348 at Kenpom in "experience"), and his young guns are getting better with each game. The Terriers, which are 3-7 in league play, have bee solid at times and terrible at others and it starts with a defense that is 9th in the league in efficiency (107.9 points/100 possessions). Part of the inconsistency has been Michael Cubbage; he's a connoisseur of the mid-range and when he's on (like at SHU when he was 8 of 10 from two), SFC can get it rolling. But when he's not (like at Bryant when he was 3 for 10 from the field), the Terriers struggle to score.
NEC Worst Bets
Season Record: 31-36
My "leans" are recorded below. I'll post any official bets to my Twitter feed.
1) Central Connecticut (+14) vs. Wagner
Central Connecticut has really struggled with good defenses, as well as against teams that are able to get a lot of offense at the rim, so I don't think the Blue Devils will give the Seahawks a scare. However, laying 14 points is a lot for a team on the road, especially one that may be looking towards Saturday's home tilt against LIU.
2) Sacred Heart (+7) vs. Long Island
No Flowers or Rivera, which means depth is a concern for LIU. I like a bounce-back from SHU in this one. I don't know that they win this one, but I see a one-possession game. If not, I may be done trusting this Pios squad.
3) Mount St. Mary's (-6.5) vs. Merrimack
I'm not giving up on the Joe Gallo defense in perpetuity, but I think I'm ready to suggest that, for whatever reason (the injury to Devin Jensen, perhaps?), the 21-22 version just doesn't have "it". The Mount is playing incredibly well, and I worry that this could enter blow-out territory early.
4) Bryant at St. Francis (PA), under 149.5
I'm not touching the Bryant -2.5 line with a 10-foot pole, as I don't trust the Red Flash right now. However, SFU's defense has played well, and there's no Kiss in this one. I could see Bryant slowing the tempo down a bit and making this a defensive affair.
5) Fairleigh Dickinson (+5.5) at St. Francis-Brooklyn
I think it's priced right, but if this line moves to, say. 7.5 I may jump all over it. It's more of a gut-play for me; I think Herenda is getting a lot out of this group, and SFC is too hit or miss for my liking.